Seven Ways Walking Can Help Relieve Stress

Seven ways that walking promotes well being and relieves symptoms of stress

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Author: Patricia Bratianu RN PhD RH-AHG

How many times have you been in a stressful situation and said, "I need a walk"? Your body knew what it needed. If you listened to your body and took a brief walk, you probably returned feeling more relaxed with a clearer head.

Your body knows what it needs when it's stressed. The problem is that most of us just tune out the signals our bodies give us until we are overstressed.

The next time you are tense, heed the signals that your body, in its incredible wisdom, is telling you.

Here's why:

Walking is a form of exercise that releases endorphins and neurotransmitters. These elevate mood and reduce pain. Stress is often accompanied by muscle tightness and headaches. The chemical compounds released during a walk may help to relieve pain.

Walking can serve as a meditative practice. Meditation has been shown to increase mental clarity which helps us to put situations into perspective. You will be able to distance yourself mentally from the situation that is causing you anxiety. Meditative activities, such as walking, can increase your resilience when you have to cope with difficult situations or people.

You will sleep better if you get exercise. Rest is an essential component of having a more relaxed attitude. Your immune system will be healthier, too. Research continues to link the health of the emotions with immune health.

Walking can serve as a "mini vacation" from your problem. As you walk, you will notice plants, people, weather, birds or other sights and sounds. Sometimes "walking away" from a problem precipitates an "aha!" moment when you think of a new solution.

Walking, especially briskly, causes you to breathe deeper than if you are just sitting inside working on a problem. Taking a deep breath releases muscle tension and initiates a cascade of relaxing physical reactions within your body. If you are fortunate, you may get some aromatherapy as you walk, too. Inhaling fragrances is the most primitive way that our minds are transported to other memories and thoughts. Suppose you walk past a bakery; the odor of fresh bread baking may transport you to a memory of a day spent baking bread with your grandma.

If you walk outside, exposure to nature has many documented healing benefits. Stress reduction, as well as decreased blood pressure and increased feelings of wellbeing are among them.

Faced with stressful situations, the part of the nervous system that triggers the "fight or flight" reaction is activated. The heart starts to pound, sweating occurs and muscles tense as adrenalin prepares you for "danger". The best way to expedite the elimination of excess adrenaline and to feel better is to discharge it through exercise. You can literally walk off the tension.

If your body is telling you "I need to take a walk", listen and take a walk. Better yet, take one regularly. You will be healthier, happier and better prepared to face the next stressful event that comes your way.

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